Thousands may be buried at former asylum in Miss.
Some of the boxes stacked inside anthropologist Molly Zuckerman’s laboratory contain full bones – a skull, a jaw, or a leg. Others contain only plastic bags of bone fragments that Zuckerman describes as “grit.”
These humble remains are among as many as 7,000 bodies that were buried at Mississippi’s former insane asylum, a site that’s now on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Researchers are planning to exhume the bodies, create a memorial and study them for insight on how mentally ill people and other marginalized populations should be treated today.
“The individuals present this amazing snapshot of life and health and human biology in Mississippi during a really tumultuous time spanning from before the Civil War into Reconstruction and into Jim Crow,” said Zuckerman, who operates her lab at Mississippi State University in Starkville. “This can provide a very rich, contextualized, detailed and personal understanding of how health changed throughout time and how people’s health was influenced by structural factors such as poverty and racism and marginalization.”
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum – later renamed the Mississippi State Insane Hospital – operated from 1855 to 1935 and housed up to 35,000 patients. Those who died while institutionalized were buried there if relatives didn’t claim their bodies.
While researchers have limited information on those buried, Zuckerman said many suffered from syphilis and mental symptoms at a time before antibiotics were known as an effective cure.